EAST WILLIAMSBURG — Brooklyn Steel, an 1,800 person venue inside a renovated former steel fabrication plant, opened Thursday — one of several mega venues headed to the neighborhood's industrial zone in the next few months.
The area, which has traditionally been home to heavy manufacturing uses like concrete plants, waste transfer facilities and printing companies, is transforming into a hub for music venues and bars, including Elsewhere, run by owners of shuttered Williamsburg venue Glasslands, which is coming this fall to 599 Johnson Ave. and Avant Gardner, which just scored a full liquor license to operate a 6,000 person space later this spring inside a former steel manufacturing plant at 111 Gardner Ave.
The huge venues on the horizon mark the continued shift from away from heavy manufacturing businesses to restaurants, bars and clubs in East Williamsburg, and the replacement of manufacturing jobs with service ones, according to Leah Archibald, the head of Evergreen Exchange, a manufacturing sector protection group in North Brooklyn.
Archibald's organization is pushing the city to tighten zoning codes in manufacturing areas in a bid to better protect industrial businesses in the area.
"It's the source of income for thousands and thousands of families who are largely foreign born, don't speak English as a first language are minorities and have some impediment to employment such as lack of formal education," Archibald said. "These are high quality jobs for people that need them."
Still, Archibald admitted the huge venues coming to the area will likely employ more people than the shuttered factories they replaced.
The steel factory that Brooklyn Steel replaced, for example, employed about 10 people when they closed several years back, Archibald said. By comparison, Brooklyn Steel will have about fifty to sixty mostly service employees working each night — bar backs, coat checkers, door attendants, bathroom attendants — according to a Megan Ascik, a spokeswoman for the venue, who didn't immediately say if the venue offered full-time positions with benefits.
The steel fabrication plant Avant Gardner replaced was also down to around 20 employees by the time they closed. While more jobs were created by the venue last year, when it was open for a series of pop up events, there were issues with those jobs, advocates said.
Nonprofit St. Nicks Alliance's workforce team, which placed four workers at the venue and filed a letter of support for Avant Gardner, later pulled their support when they got complaints from their workers that the employees were being paid late and off the books.
"That wasn't stable at all," said Beatrice Brown, who works at St. Nicks.
Avant Gardner recently got a full liquor license and has pledged to host a job fair in the coming weeks, and pledged to employ between 164 and 229 people in full and part-time positions.
Mayor de Blasio's administration has pledged to protect and bolster the city's manufacturing sector, allotting $115 million in new funding in 2015, and began a study of the East Williamsburg industrial zone in the fall of 2015, with the goal of better promoting jobs and economic activity in both "21st century" jobs as well as traditional manufacturing ones.
A final study is slated for release later this year.